Thursday, December 4, 2008

Keep the Heat On

A couple of months ago, I had a post on worrying about your heat before the game began. Now we are hip deep in winter, and the United Way of Greater Toledo did a great forum on helping people keep their heat on this winter. I summarize the major points below for people in the Toledo area. However, if you are a resident of another state, there is still good stuff to remember. Always let your utility company know if you are having problems. Most have alternate payment plans, like budgeting, or ways to deal with arrearages, that will allow you to keep your heat.

Also, the utility commission in your state can be your friend. Often, there are regulations about power shutoffs that may be able to delay them until you can get something together and deal with the power company. Again, DON'T WAIT. Check the listing of state utility commissions, and find the one for your state. Check their programs, and see if they have hotlines that you can call if you are in danger of a shutoff.

Your local community action agency can be your friend, too. What's that? It's a nonprofit agency that is created to help the poor. They are the product of the war on poverty, and they are often the agencies designated to distribute help in home heating and weatherization. Find yours in a state-by-state rundown of CAAs at the Community Action Partnership website.

Now for the Toledo area stuff:

1) First and foremost, contact the utility when you are first aware that you will be having trouble paying your bills. Don't wait till things get bad. You may be able to work out a payment plan. This is important, because you may be able to make payment arrangements that will make your bills small enough to handle. Toledo Edison: Monday-Friday: 7:30-7:00 800-447-3333; Columbia Gas Monday-Friday, 7:00-7:00 800-344-4077; Department of Public Utilities Monday-Friday 9-4 419-245-1800.

2) PIPP (Percentage of Income Payment Plan). Eligibility: 150% or less of federal poverty guidelines. Utility in customer’s name. It’s an extended payment program that requires gas and electric companies to accept payments based on the percentage of the monthly household income for those customers who are at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. If they qualify, the customer can pay 10% of the household’s current gross monthly income to the utility that provides the primary source of heat, and 5% of the current gross monthly income to the company that provides the secondary source of heat. If the customer is at or below 50% of the poverty level, the customer will pay 3 percent instead of 5 percent to the secondary source of heat. If they only have one source of heat, they pay 15% or 13% to that one heat provider. HOWEVER, the customer is still responsible for paying the arrearages (the difference between the current usage and the required PIPP payment). Customers who become ineligible for PIPP based on a change in their household size or income level will be placed on an arrearage crediting program. Arrearage crediting will assist the customer to pay back the arrearages that were incurred while participating on PIPP. In Lucas County, people can sign up through EOPA. For more information, call EOPA at (866) 504-7392.

3) HEAP--Provides a one-time payment for utility assistance during the winter. In Lucas County, contact EOPA at (866) 504-7392. In Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Seneca Counties, call WSOS at (800) 775-9767.

4) Emergency HEAP-Provides disconnection assistance payment up to $175 during the winter months. In Lucas County, contact EOPA at (866) 504-7392. In Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Seneca Counties, call WSOS at (800) 775-9767.

5) HeatShare Program—Sponsored by Columbia Gas of Ohio and administered by the Salvation Army to help qualifying households pay natural gas bills. For more information, call the Salvation Army at (419) 241-3549.

6) Home Weatherization Assistance Program: Provides education and funding to help low-income households lower their energy use. Services include insulation, air leakage reduction, heating system repairs or replacements, and health and safety testing and inspections. Funded by the Ohio Office of Energy Efficiency, it is administered locally by EOPA. Call them at (419) 242-7304.

7) Winter Reconnect Order--The order allows customers who are disconnected or being threatened with disconnection the opportunity to pay a maximum of $175 to restore or maintain their utility service. If the power is already shut off, there can be a maximum reconnect fee of $20 (any extra costs may be added onto a later bill). There is no income requirement, and individuals who have committed acts of fraud in payments to utilities are ineligible. May only be used once between October 20, 2008 and April 15, 2009. The customer or EOPA must contact the utility to enroll the customer in a payment plan. Call the utility in question.

8) One-sixth payment plan- Customer is responsible for paying their current bill plus one-sixth of their arrearages for six months. Customer should contact utility company to enroll on this plan.

9) One-third payment plans- Customer is responsible for paying one-third of their total account balance to maintain utility service from November through April 15. Customer should contact utility company to enroll on this plan.

10) Medical certificates. If a doctor’s office can verify that someone living in the home has a medical condition that cannot tolerate a power shutoff, it must be shown to the utility. May be used to prevent disconnection or restore service within 21 days of the disconnection. If issued, it will prohibit disconnection for 30 days. Can be used a total of three times during the year. Call the utility in question.

11) Lucas County Veterans Commission--They provide emergency financial assistance for honorably discharged Lucas County Veterans. This is limited both in number of times that it can be used, and in the amount of money available. For more information, please call 419-213-6090.

12) Salvation Army may have funds for emergency utility reconnection. Will meet with clients by appointment only. Their appointment hotline is 419-241-2294.

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